Phase Seven: Fulfillment
Reverend and Mrs. Clare await the return of their son, and when they see him Mrs. Clare is shocked to see him sickly and angular. He asserts that he is fine now, but then nearly faints. The Clares give Angel the latest letter they received from Tess, which asserts that Tess will try to forget him. Mrs. Clare tells him not to worry about such a mere child of the soil, but Angel retorts that they are all children of the soil. Angel sends a line to Marlott announcing his return and his hope that Tess is still living there, but in several days receives a letter from Joan Durbeyfield telling him that they are no longer at Marlott and Tess is not with them and she does not know when Tess will return. Angel decides to wait for another letter, but then rereads an earlier letter by Tess in which she claims that she would die for him. He determines that her more recent note does not show her true feelings, and decides to find Tess. Angel realizes that Tess has not asked for money from the Clares because of their special charity toward sinners. As Angel packs, he finds the note from Marian and Izz.
The several letters sent to Angel Clare during his separation from Tess play a critical role in determining Angel's course of action once he returns from Brazil. Since these letters give contradictory information concerning whether or not Tess will accept Angel once more, Angel must decide which of the two letters written by Tess reveals her true feelings for him. Even the letter written by Marian and Izz bolsters Angel's decision to seek Tess. Angel displays a resolve toward Tess that recalls his insistence when he wished to marry her, showing that he has accepted Tess as his wife despite her past. Hardy indicates that Angel's suffering in Brazil has influenced this development. Angel returns to England aged and sickly, having suffered greatly and matured from the obstinate idealism he once displayed.
However, despite Angel's resolve that he shall be reunited with his wife, Hardy implies that Tess may no longer desire a reconciliation. Her final letter to Angel certainly indicates as such, while Joan Durbeyfield's claim that she does not know where Tess is implies that either Tess does not want Angel to find her or Tess is in a dire situation in which she is unable to be located.
Angel travels to find Tess, passing Cross-in-Hand and Flintcomb-Ash. He discovers there that nobody knew a Mrs. Clare, but they did know about Tess. Angel travels to Marlott, where he learns that John Durbeyfield is dead and his widow and children had left for Kingsbere. He sees John Durbeyfield's tomb, with its inscription "How Are the Mighty Fallen." Eventually, Angel finds Joan Durbeyfield, who tells him that Tess has not come home. When Angel asks whether Tess would want him to look for her, Joan Durbeyfield claims no emphatically, but Angel replies that he is sure that she would because he knows Tess better. Joan admits that she has never really known her daughter, and tells Angel that Tess is at Sandbourne.
Angel continues to demonstrate his great will to find his wife, as when he demands of Joan Durbeyfield that he know where Tess is located. Hardy constructs this chapter as a retelling of Tess's actions during her separation from Angel, as Angel himself finds himself in Flintcomb-Ash, Marlott and Kingsbere and he learns that John Durbeyfield has died. This serves as a reminder of Tess's travails as a suffering Angel retraces these steps. This seems a trial for Angel, particularly during his confrontation with Joan Durbeyfield; she gives the location of her daughter only after Angel proves his devotion to Tess. This confrontation also demonstrates a growth for Joan Durbeyfield, who realizes her own failings and responsibility for Tess's troubles by admitting that she has never really known her daughter. Joan has viewed Tess as an instrument for her and her husband's plans, yet only now realizes that her ill treatment has caused Tess's downfall.
Angel reaches Sandbourne, a fashionable village that had recently experienced tremendous growth. Angel wonders where Tess could be amidst the wealth and fashion around him. He asks the postman for the address of a Mrs. Clare, and then a Miss Durbeyfield, but he does not know either. Another postal worker tells Angel the address of a d'Urberville at The Herons. Angel goes to this lodging house and asks Mrs. Brooks, the householder, for Teresa d'Urberville. He learns that she has been passing as a married woman. Tess appears, loosely wrapped in a cashmere dressing gown. Angel begs forgiveness for going away, but she says that it is too late. She says that she waited and waited, but Alec has won her back. She says that she hates Alec now, for he told her the lie that Angel would never come again. Angel can barely speak, but feels that Tess had ceased to recognize the body before her as her husband.
The village of Sandbourne proves a stark contrast to the other regions in which Tess has stayed; this village community is thriving and fashionable, and its description foreshadows the later revelation of this chapter that Tess has returned to the sophisticated and urbane Alec d'Urberville. Tess herself comes to physically resemble this area, having adopted a more fashionable and stylish dress that endows her with an appearance of assurance and strength. Hardy juxtaposes Tess with the now sickly and decrepit Angel, who demonstrates his weakness in comparison with Tess. However, Angel's reappearance breaks Tess's façade of strength, demonstrating that her decision to return to Alec is one of weakness and desperation. Significantly, Tess does not blame Angel for what has occurred, but rather shifts the blame to Alec. This foreshadows the events that will drive the final chapters of the novel.
Angel's realization that Tess had not recognized the body before her as her husband parallels his earlier condemnation of Tess as a different woman in Tess's shape. In this situation, it is Tess who rejects Angel, for she cannot reconcile what she believes about her husband with the actual person in front of her.
Mrs. Brooks had heard fragments of the conversation between Angel and Tess, and hears Tess return to her room. Mrs. Brooks ascends the stairs and stands at the door of the drawing room. She can hear only a low sort of moaning as Tess sobs, and then hears portions of a conversation between Alec and Tess in which she tells him that Angel has returned and it looks as if he is dying. She tells Alec that she has lost Angel again because of him. Alec replies in sharper words and there is a sudden rustle before Mrs. Brooks hastily retreats down the stairs. Later, Mrs. Brooks notices a red spot on the white ceiling that had grown since the morning and has qualms of misgiving. She finds a workman nearby and asks him to enter the room with her. They find in the room Alec d'Urberville, who has been stabbed in the heart with a knife and is now dead.
Hardy introduces the character of Mrs. Brooks for several purposes. She serves as an entrance into the private conversation between Alec and Tess, giving this conversation a secretive and covert quality. By describing the murder of Alec through Mrs. Brooks' information about it, Hardy leaves ambiguous whether this murder was premeditated, impulse or an act of self-defense. Yet more importantly, Mrs. Brooks places the murder of Alec in a firmly public sphere. Hardy leaves no question that the murder is public knowledge and that the identity of the murderer is in little doubt. This lends a sense of inevitability to the impending tragic end for Tess Durbeyfield.
Angel prepares to leave town, dejected. He walks to the first nearby train station, and as he travels he sees a woman running toward him. It is Tess, who has been following him. She tells Angel that she has killed Alec, and smiles faintly as she tells him this. Tess admits that she killed Alec when he taunted Tess and called Angel by a foul name. Angel wonders what obscure strain in the d'Urberville blood had led to this aberration of moral sense, if it were an aberration. Angel thinks about the legend of the d'Urberville coach. He vows not to desert Tess, and they continue together. They pass a deserted mansion, Bramshurst Court, where they rest.
Tess and Angel finally reconcile in this chapter, but the circumstances under which Angel and Tess find themselves render this reconciliation short-lived. Hardy finally connects Tess to the d'Urberville legacy in this chapter, allowing that her d'Urberville heritage has endowed her with a faulty moral deficiency that has made her capable of murder. Angel himself relates the murder of Alec to the legend of the d'Urberville coach. However, Tess's action may be seen as a reversal of this legend, for in this instance it is the victimized woman who strikes out against a rapacious d'Urberville. Tess inverts her family history, recalling the d'Urberville history and refuting its legends.
That night, Tess tells Angel about how he carried her while sleepwalking, and he regrets that she did not tell him about this earlier, for it might have prevented much misunderstanding and woe. Tess is reluctant to leave their shelter and go toward Southampton or London, for she wonders why they must put an end to all that is sweet and lovely. She says that what must come will come. Angel decides that they must finally leave the mansion, but Tess wishes to stay, for she believes she will not last more than several weeks. Angel plans to take Tess north, where they can sail from Wessex. They travel northward and reach Stonehenge. Tess wishes to remain there, for Angel used to say that she was a heathen and thus Stonehenge is appropriate for her. Tess asks Angel to look after Liza-Lu if he loses her and to marry her. Tess falls asleep there, and as she sleeps a party of sixteen men surrounds Stonehenge to get Tess. Tess awakes, and asks Angel if they have come for her. Tess admits that she is almost glad, for her happiness could not have lasted. She tells them that she is ready.
For a brief period, Tess and Angel remain happily as husband and wife, yet this happiness is a nearly grotesque one, for the couple essentially has their honeymoon as they travel as fugitives. And, as both Tess and Angel realize, this period of happiness is short-lived. Tess knows that she will be caught, and thus plans for her husband and her family after her inevitable execution. This emphasizes the theme that Tess is unable to escape her fate; Hardy offers no possibility that Tess and Angel might escape England where Tess might go unpunished.
Despite the tragic conclusion to Tess Durbeyfield life, both Tess and Angel accept her fate stoically, for this is a final end to her suffering. Having experienced pain and hardship almost entirely since leaving home for Trantridge, Tess can only expect more difficulties, even after reuniting with Angel. The only option that Angel has before Tess's demise is to ensure that her end is not protracted.
Angel Clare walks with Liza-Lu, moving hand in hand without speaking. Tess is executed for her crime, as "justice" is done and fate has ended his sport with Tess. As the black flag is raised, Angel and Liza-Lu silently rise, join hands and move on.
Hardy ends the novel with a brief explanation of Tess's fate that laments the ironic justice that she received. For suffering through Alec d'Urberville and the consequences of his treatment toward her, Tess receives the justice' of execution for finally reasserting herself in the face of her seducer. Hardy also gives a brief indication of Angel's fate; he will presumably marry Liza-Lu in order to make amends to his wife for his treatment of her.